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Juan Moreno, president and founder of JGMA answered our questions on his perspective of glass and its various uses in his projects.

What concepts does glass as a building material evoke in your imagination?

For us, the glass in the typologies that we work in, which are predominantly within Chicago’s areas of color, represents an opportunity to connect the users of our buildings with the greater community, particularly in projects like schools. These allow the students within to really activate the interior buildings. This visibility through the glass brings energy to communities that is incomparable with any other strategy for energizing neighborhoods that have been neglected.

Which criteria determine your preference in using glass (insulation, reflectivity, color, etc.) in the design process of your projects?

I would say the criteria depends mainly on the project types and location, and most importantly, the concept behind the ideas. In some cases, color plays a significant role because we use color as a significant branding or cultural reference in the work that we do. Color also gives us an opportunity to enliven the neighborhoods within which we work.

Which building do you find the most impressive in its use of glass, why?

If we talk about buildings that are ours, in terms of impressiveness in the use of glass, it is difficult to select one of our projects because I think the use of glass represents so many different things and so many different elements in a positive way. But one that would have probably the most impressive cultural community and architectural impact would be the KLEO Art Residences project that we did in the Washington Park community of Chicago. It is a social housing project where most of us recognize the use of glass could be very sparse in this typology. For us, because the social housing was predominantly for artists, the use of glass was a method of bringing natural light into spaces within which artists work and live; but more importantly, the glass serves as this wonderful beacon of change for the neighborhood.

What are the attributes of glass that add value to building design?

The attribute of glass that adds the most value for us is that the stereotype of glass when your work will have to set this in a context within which we work, in communities of color and disinvested neighborhoods. Glass is usually viewed as an unattainable material; it is a material usually viewed as being too expensive or easily valued engineered. Thus, the use of glass for us represents an opportunity to provide this unique sense of dignity in the projects that we create for the users. It allows us to create buildings where people feel like somebody actually cares about them, and that is important to us. I would say that represents the greatest attribute of glass.

How do these values reflect on your projects, how do you prefer to use glass?

These values are found in our work in typologies such as education. That is when you create a new school in a neighborhood that has not seen investment or has inherent challenges, often the strategy for architects is to try to fortify the architecture and create buildings that in many ways make people and children feel semi-incarcerated, more than finding ways to excite and celebrate the wonderful things that go on within the insides of the buildings that we work on. Therefore, the greatest value of glass for us is that it is a chance to get people excited about what goes on inside buildings. Whether in education, housing, or healthcare/wellness, it really does not matter, it is a chance for people to see other people in this activity, which creates more of a positive feeling within a community.

Could you share your vision for the creative use of glass in architecture?

I think our vision of what creativity means is that we want to break down the barrier of “glass is only for rich people,” and that “glass is only for projects of the elite.” The fact is that glass has benefits for people of all socio-economic backgrounds, and just because the project is being built on a neglected community, does not mean that the use of glass is not warranted. For us, our predominant vision in the use of glass allows us to bring dignity to our users in neighborhoods that unfortunately have not felt this for a long time.

Photography: © Tom Rossiter (2-4: Daley College MTEC), © JGMA (5-6: KLEO Arts Residences), © JGMA (7: Westfield Old Orchard Mall), © Tom Rossiter (8-9: SOS Children's Villages)